Calculating the Number of the Beast

Here’s a very interesting article by Gary DeMar that will certainly challenge much current thinking about the identity of the Beast in the book of Revelation. (original source here)

Dr. R. C. Sproul has come to similar conclusions – see his lecture on “The Beast” at this link)

This comment was made in a post about the number of the Beast (Revelation 13:18): “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”

The question is: Why should we use Hebrew gematria in a book that is written in Greek for the Greek speaking churches of Asia Minor?

Gematria is an interpretive method that assigns numerical value to letters, words, and phrases. Most of us are unfamiliar with this method since we have a separate alphabet and numbering system.

Anybody familiar with the Bible understands that numbers are important. Some see gematria everywhere in Scripture. I have Theomatics: God’s Best Secret Revealed and The Original Code in the Bible: Using Science and Mathematics to Reveal God’s Fingerprints in mind. This is not to dismiss the idea that some, maybe many, Bible numbers have a deeper symbolic meaning, especially when the Bible tells us in the case of Revelation 13:18 to “calculate the number of the beast.”

When trying to match up “six hundred and sixty-six” with a known historical figure, we need more than a plausible candidate; we need a relevant candidate. The first readers of Revelation were told to “calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (13:18). Since Revelation was written to a first-century audience (“these things must shortly take place . . . for the time is near . . . the hour of testing is about to come on the land. . . . Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book for the time is near”: 1:1, 3; 3:10, 22:10), we should expect some first-century readers to have been able to calculate the number with relative ease and understand the result. They would have had few candidates from which to choose. It’s unlikely that this number of a man identifies someone outside their time of reference. The same is true of the rest of the book.

Notice that the number is “six hundred and sixty-six,” not three sixes. Tim LaHaye misidentifies the number when he writes, “The plain sense of Scripture tells us that it comprises the numbers: six, six, six.”1 The three Greek letters that make up the number represent 600 (ἑξακόσιοι), 60 (ἑξήκοντα), and 6 (ἕξ).

NEPΩN KAIΣAP

Ancient numbering systems used an alphanumeric method. This is true of the Latin (Roman) system that is still common today: I = 1, V = 5, X = 10, L = 50, C = 100, D = 500, M = 1,000.

Greek and Hebrew follow a similar method: each letter of each alphabet represents a number. The first nine letters represent 1–9. The tenth letter represents 10, with the nineteenth letter representing 100 and so on. Since the book of Revelation is written in a Hebrew context by a Jew with numerous allusions to the Old Testament, we should expect the solution to deciphering the meaning of six hundred and sixty-six to be Hebraic. “The reason clearly is that, while [John] writes in Greek, he thinks in Hebrew, and the thought has naturally affected the vehicle of expression.”2

Is there anything in John’s writings, especially in Revelation, that hints at this use of both Greek and Hebrew? The “angel of the abyss” is described in two ways: “His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon” (Rev. 9:11). Something similar was done with “Har-Magedon” (hill of Megiddo) or “Ar-Magedon” (city of Megiddo) (Rev. 16:16). Megiddo was an Old Testament city (1 Chron. 7:29), the place where King Josiah was killed (2 Chron. 35:20–27). There are references to Egypt and Sodom (Rev. 11:8), Jezebel (2:20), Balaam (2:14), Babylon (17-18), the attire of the high priest (17:4-5).

Of the 404 verses of the book of Revelation, 278 are based directly on Old Testament language and thought. . . . The author of Revelation does not intend to show that Old Testament predictions are fulfilled in events involving Christ and the church. Instead, he used Old Testament language to describe the situation facing his readers. He draws parallels between Old Testament events and ideas and the circum­stances in which he and his readers find themselves.3

For a comprehensive list, see “Old Testament References in the Book of Revelation” by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.

In John’s gospel, the place where Pilate sat down to judge Jesus was called “The Pavement,” but John called attention to its Hebrew (Jewish Aramaic) name “Gabbatha” (John 19:13). In the same chapter, John wrote how Pilate had an inscription placed on the cross above Jesus’ head written in “Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek” (John 19:20). Going from Greek to Hebrew was typical and expected since Jews spoke Hebrew or Jewish Aramaic which is very similar to Hebrew.

For a fully study of this topic, see William Henry Guillemard’s Hebraisms in the Greek Testament.

So what name is behind the cryptic 666? When Nero Caesar’s name is transliterated into Hebrew, which a first-century Jew would probably have done immediately, he would have gotten Neron Kesar or simply nrwn qsr, since Hebrew has no letters to represent vowels. (The w represents a long “o” sound and the q represents the “k” sound in Hebrew.) “It has been documented by archaeological finds that a first century Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name provides us with precisely the value of 666. Jastrow’s lexicon of the Talmud contains this very spelling.”4 When we take the letters of Nero’s name and spell them in Hebrew, we get the following numeric values: n = 50, r = 200, w = 6, n = 50, q = 100, s = 60, r = 200. Put together, the sum is 666.

Every Jewish reader, of course, saw that the Beast was a symbol of Nero. And both Jews and Christians regarded Nero as also having close affinities with the serpent or dragon . . . The Apostle writing as a Hebrew, was evidently thinking as a Hebrew . . . Accordingly, the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name—that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment that he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as “Neron Kesar.”5

I have a coin (see right) that spells Nero’s name as NERŌN. Coins were struck with the spelling NEPΩN KAIΣAP ΣEBAΣTOΣ = “Neron Caesar Augustus.”

Richard Bauckham writes:

The solution to the riddle of 666 which has been most widely accepted since it was first suggested in 1831 is that 666 is the sum of the letters of Nero Caesar written in Hebrew characters as נרון קסר (נ = 50 + ר = 200 + ו = 6 + ן = 50 + ק = 100 + ס = 60 + ר = 200). Few of the many other solutions by gematria which have been proposed offer a name, which the phrase ‘the number of his name’ (Rev. 13:17; 15:2) requires, and of those few which do this seems eminently the most preferable.6

A textual variant in some New Testament manuscripts has the number of the Beast as 616 based on the reading of nrw qsr — Nero Caesar — instead of “the Greek form Nerwn, . . . so that the final ן is omitted from נרון , the numerical value becomes 616.”7

Solomon and 666

The Jews had seen the number six hundred and sixty-six before (not 6-6-6 but 600+60+6= 666). Prior to Solomon’s slide into apostasy, a description of his reign is given. One of the things said about him is that “the weight of gold which came in to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold” (1 Kings 10:14). From the number of shields (300) to the price of a horse imported from Egypt (150 shekels), we find round numbers, except when the number of gold talents is mentioned. Why not 650 or even 660? Why 666?

From the point where we are told that 666 talents of gold came into Solomon’s possession in one year, we read of Solomon’s apostasy. First, Solomon violates the law regarding the accumulation of horses, chariots, wives, and gold (1 Kings 10:26; see Deut. 17:16-17).

The law of Deuteronomy 17 forbad the king to multiply gold, women, and horses, but here we see Solomon do all three. In Revelation, the religious rulers of the “land” are called kings, the “kings of the land.” The apostasy of the High Priest, and of the religious leaders of Israel, is thus linked to Solomon’s sin. As Solomon lost his kingdom when the northern tribes rebelled after his death, so the Land Beast will lose his kingdom permanently when Jerusalem is destroyed.8

Second, Solomon sells himself to foreign interests by marrying foreign women to create political alliances (1 Kings 11:1–2). It is here that we see a parallel with Revelation 13. In their rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah (“He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him”—John 1:11), the unbelieving Jews committed spiritual adultery with the nations (Roman Empire of nations) in the way that Solomon committed physical/spiritual adultery with the nations surrounding him:

Now Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the sons of Israel, ‘You shall not associate with them, neither shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.’ Solomon held fast to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away (1 Kings 11:1–3).

James Jordan sums up the connection between Solomon and the apostate character of the Church’s enemy in Revelation 13:

The number of the name (character) of the Sea Beast, then, means “apostate Solomon; apostate Jew.” It is Solomon, not free under Yahweh’s rule, but enslaved to Gentiles through illicit trade, the idol worshipping wiles of his women, and his lust for gold.9

It’s possible, therefore, that 666 refers to both Nero and Solomon since the Sea Beast (Roman Empire under Nero) and the Land Beast (Israel as a “synagogue of Satan”: Rev. 2:9; 3:9) cooperate in their desire to see the new covenant people of God destroyed. Those Jews who rejected Jesus (the greater David: Acts 2:25–36) embraced the apostasy of Solomon who did not follow after his father David.

Marrying foreign wives was similar to what the Jews did when they cried out at Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the civil representative of Rome, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). They aligned themselves with Rome against Jesus. This made them true antichrists (2 John 2:7; 1 John 2:18-22; 4:2-3). They chose the bastard Barabbas (“son [bar] of a father [abba]”) rather than the true son, Jesus (Son of the Father).

Nero the Beastly Character

By all accounts, Nero had a reputation as an immoral beast. “According to the emperor Marcus Aurelius [121–180], ‘To be violently drawn and moved by the lusts of the soul is proper to wild beasts and monsters, such as Phalaris and Nero were.’”10 Other histories of the period offer a similar description. But for Christians, Nero was a beast because “he was the first emperor to persecute the church.”11

Nero was an animalistic pervert. He kicked one of his pregnant wives to death. He murdered his mother. He set Christians on fire to serve as lamps for a dinner party. He would dress up as a beast and rape both male and female prisoners. And he was the covenant head of Rome—that great Satan.12

There is a long history of Christian commentators who have taught that John, through the Revelation received through Jesus, had Nero in mind as the fulfillment of what is taking place in Revelation 13 as the Sea Beast. Nero fits the historical circumstances since he was the Emperor of Rome from A.D. 54 through June of 68 and was a tyrant of first order. According to first-century Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 56–117), Nero blamed the burning of Rome on Christians:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace (Annals, 15:44).

Nero committed numerous atrocities against Christians. Some Christians were “wrapped in animal skins and torn apart by dogs; others were crucified and set aflame after being soaked in oil. Nero threw open his gardens for the spectacle and drove about in his chariot.”13

One of the reasons Nero was often identified as the Beast of Revelation 13 (the word “antichrist” is not used in Revelation) was because his name, when put into Hebrew letters, as a Jew would have done (Rev. 16:16), adds up to 666:

Every Jewish reader, of course, saw that the Beast was a symbol of Nero. And both Jews and Christians regarded Nero as also having close affinities with the serpent or dragon . . . The Apostle writing as a Hebrew, was evidently thinking as a Hebrew . . . Accordingly, the Jewish Christian would have tried the name as he thought of the name — that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment that he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as “Neron Kesar.”14

Mark Wilson writes the following in his brief commentary on Revelation in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: “Nero is the only first-century emperor whose name can be calculated to equal 666. Nero’s Greek name NERON KAISER was inscribed on the obverse of coins from Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea during this period.”15 The IVP Bible Background Commentary states that identifying Nero as the Beast and the number 666 is “the most popular proposal among scholars today.”16

There’s something else to consider. If the Greek word for beast (θηρίον = תריון) is translated “into Hebrew consonants, the numerical value comes out to 666. This appears to be what John means when he mentions in 13:18 ‘the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.’”17

Conclusion

So not only does Nero Caesar add up to 666 when transliterated into Hebrew letters, but the Hebrew transliteration of the Greek word for “beast” also comes to 666.

By paying attention to the specific time elements in Revelation and audience relevance, we can conclude that John’s Beast with a name that adds up to 666 is long dead and gone. Today’s end-time speculation is foolish and counter-productive and dilutes the Bible’s message of the finished work of Jesus Christ and the end of the old covenant system that passed away with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. We should focus on the name of Jesus “and the name of His Father” (Rev. 14:1). The Lamb has conquered the Beast of Revelation 13 and any beasts to follow.

Notes:

1. Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 22–27.
2. R.H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), 1:cxliii.
3. Frank Pack, “The Old Testament and the Book of Revelation.”
4. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Beast of Revelation, rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2002), chap. 3. Also see Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, 1:367.
5. Frederic W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1882), 471.
6. Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), 387.
7. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 387. Also see James Tabor, “Why 2K?: The Biblical Roots of Millennialism,” Bible Review (December 1999): http://bit.ly/WtlK30
8. James B. Jordan, A Brief Reader’s Guide to Revelation (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1999), 36.
9. James B. Jordan, “The Beasts of Revelation (4),” Studies in Revelation (April 1996), 2.
10. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 409.
11. Bauckham, the Climax of Prophecy, 411.
12. Douglas Wilson, “666” (July 13, 2005): http://bit.ly/StHTRq
13. John Haralson Hayes, Introduction to the Bible (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1971), 453.
14. Frederic W. Farrar, The Early Days of Christianity (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1882), 471.
15. Mark W. Wilson, “Revelation,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, gen. ed. Clinton E. Arnold (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 4:330.
16. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 799.
17. Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 389.

The Real Prayer of Jabez

Article by Dr. Steve Lawson (original source here)

Riding a tidal wave of surging popularity, few Christian books have burst onto the publishing scene and been as widely received as The Prayer of Jabez (Multnomah, 2000). In only its sixth year of circulation, this brief, ninety-three-page book has sold a staggering ten million copies, pushing its way to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. In its wake, a virtual Prayer of Jabez sub-culture has emerged, complete with journals, backpacks, jewelry, vanilla-scented candles, and myriads of assorted marketing paraphernalia. Unfortunately, many well-meaning evangelicals have been swept up in this trendy phenomenon.

Prefacing this work, author Bruce Wilkinson writes, “I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers. It is brief — only one sentence with four parts…but I believe it contains the key to a life of extraordinary favor with God.… In fact, thousands of believers who are applying its truths are seeing miracles happen on a regular basis.” But is the prayer of Jabez really the single greatest key to a spiritual life that is pleasing to God? Is Wilkinson’s teaching true to the full counsel of God? Hardly.

Those with doctrinal moorings and spiritual discernment know that this simplistic approach to the Christian life is an inadequate means by which to view God, true spirituality, and prayer. True, certain features of the book can be cited positively, such as its much-needed emphasis upon prayer. But The Prayer of Jabez, quite frankly, suffers from a deficient theology. The book is seriously plagued by the following things:

First, an inadequate view of prayer, trivializing its truly profound nature; second, a misguided focus upon prosperity, overtly emphasizing miracles and financial blessings; third, a defective doctrine of providence that fails to see God sovereignly and actively involved in all of life. Polemics aside, however, it will do us well to revisit the prayer of Jabez — not the book, but the biblical text — and discover what this prayer actually teaches.

Tucked away in a long genealogical record (1 Chron. 4), Jabez emerges from relative obscurity as one who “was more honorable than his brothers” (v. 9). A spiritually strong man, he was highly esteemed in his day, more virtuous and upstanding than others. His extraordinary piety is well documented in that a city was named after him, a place where “the families of scribes” gathered (1 Chron. 2:55). Moreover, his name, Jabez, means, “He will cause pain,” a perpetual reminder of the agony he caused during delivery. Yet, despite such a difficult entrance into this world, there was a divinely scripted plan for his life, sovereignly orchestrated for God’s glory and his good.

With complete dependence upon God in prayer, Jabez “called upon…God (Elohim)” (1 Chron. 4:10a), the divine name meaning the Supreme One, Mighty Ruler, and Sovereign Lord (Gen. 1:1). By appealing to this name, he acknowledged that God providentially reigns over all the works of His hands (Ps. 103:19). Moreover, He is the God “of Israel,” closely related to His chosen ones (Amos 3:2). To Jabez, God is both infinite and intimate, both accessible and able to answer his prayers.

In petitioning God, Jabez prayed, “Oh that you would bless me” (v. 10b). That is, he asked God to extend His undeserved favor toward him. Specifically, Jabez asked, “Enlarge my border” (v. 10c), thereby requesting that God would expand his territory by defeating his enemies, the Canaanites, expelling them from the adjacent territory. In the days of Moses and Joshua, God had promised that He would give the Promised Land to Israel. Accordingly, Jabez prayed for this increase in land.

Is it right to ask God for material things? Of course it is. Jesus Himself taught His disciples to pray for their “daily bread” (Matt. 6:11; Luke 11:3). God desires us to petition Him for all good things needed to fulfill His will, even for physical provisions (James 4:2). But, ultimately, God is sovereign and will answer prayer as He wills, not as man wills. To be sure, the motive of every prayer must be for the glory of God, not the greed of man. As lowly servants before our exalted King, we should make certain that our prayers are always humble requests, never haughty demands.

Furthermore, Jabez prayed “that your hand might be with me” (v. 10d), a petition that the invisible hand of Providence would empower him in this heroic endeavor. The truth is, God’s work must always be done in God’s power, or it will surely fail (Zech. 4:6). Moreover, Jabez requested “that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain” (v. 10e). In this, he asked for God’s supernatural protection to be upon him throughout this conflict. To be sure, all God’s servants are exposed to constant danger and desperately need divine protection from Satan’s relentless assaults.

With unwavering faith, Jabez placed this entire matter in the hands of God — and there are no more reliable, or more capable, and no more powerful hands than those of our sovereign God. What was the result of such a humble prayer? Simply this, that God “granted what he asked” (v. 10f). Not because Jabez used the right formula in prayer. Nor because he somehow manipulated God. For God is not a genie to be conjured out of a bottle and used for one’s own personal ends. Rather, God sovereignly chose to be glorified through Jabez in answering his petition. The prayer of Jabez is not a mindless mantra that God always answers, chanted for self-advancement. Instead, it teaches us to seek God faithfully. When He alone is magnified, we will be truly blessed indeed

Augustine: Refuting the Pelagians

‘But these brethren of ours, about whom and on whose behalf we are now discoursing, say, perhaps, that the Pelagians are refuted by this apostolical testimony in which it is said that we are chosen in Christ and predestinated before the foundation of the world, in order that we should be holy and immaculate in His sight in love. For they think that “having received God’s commands we are of ourselves by the choice of our free will made holy and immaculate in His sight in love; and since God foresaw that this would be the case,” they say, “He therefore chose and predestinated us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Although the apostle says that it was not because He foreknew that we should be such, but in order that we might be such by the same election of His grace, by which He showed us favour in His beloved Son. When, therefore, He predestinated us, He foreknew His own work by which He makes us holy and immaculate. Whence the Pelagian error is rightly refuted by this testimony. “But we say,” say they, “that God did not foreknow anything as ours except that faith by which we begin to believe, and that He chose and predestinated us before the foundation of the world, in order that we might be holy and immaculate by His grace and by His work.” But let them also hear in this testimony the words where he says, “We have obtained a lot, being predestinated according to His purpose who worketh all things.” He, therefore, worketh the beginning of our belief who worketh all things; because faith itself does not precede that calling of which it is said: “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;” and of which it is said: “Not of works, but of Him that calleth” (although He might have said, “of Him that believeth”); and the election which the Lord signified when He said: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For He chose us, not because we believed, but that we might believe, lest we should be said first to have chosen Him, and so His word be false (which be it far from us to think possible), “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Neither are we called because we believed, but that we may believe; and by that calling which is without repentance it is effected and carried through that we should believe. But all the many things which we have said concerning this matter need not to be repeated.’

— St. Augustine

Ten Things You Should Know About The Gospel

Article by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

As much as we hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ one would think that everyone is on the same page when it comes to defining this word. Sadly, that is not the case. So just what is the gospel? How might we define it? Here are ten things to keep in mind.

(1) The “gospel” is the gloriously great good news of what our triune God has graciously done in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to satisfy his own wrath against us and to secure the forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness for all who trust in him by faith alone. Christ fulfilled, on our behalf, the perfectly obedient life under God’s law that we should have lived, but never could. He died, in our place, the death that we deserved to suffer but now never will. And by his rising from the dead he secures for those who believe the promise of a resurrected and glorified life in a new heaven and a new earth in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever.

(2) The gospel is fundamentally about something that has happened. It is an accomplished event, an unalterable fact of history. Nothing can undo the gospel. No power in heaven or earth can overturn or reverse it. But as a settled achievement it also exerts a radical and far-reaching influence into both our present experience and our future hopes. Central to why it is the “best” news imaginable is that the glory of what God has already done in and through Jesus transforms everything now and yet to come.

(3) This gospel is not only the means by which people have been saved, but also the truth and power by which people are being sanctified (1 Cor. 15:1-2); it is the truth of the gospel that enables us to genuinely and joyfully do what is pleasing to God and to grow in progressive conformity to the image of Christ. Thus we must never think that the gospel is solely for unbelievers. It is for Christians, at every stage of their lives. There is nothing in the Christian life that is “post” gospel! Continue reading

Does Calvinism Make God the Author of Evil?

Article by Phil Johnson (original source here)

Arminians often insist that if “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession of Faith, III.1) then He must be morally responsible for evil. If His decree caused everything that happens, they claim, that makes Him the Cause of evil, and that in turn contradicts James 1:13 and 1 John 1:5.

How have Calvinists responded to that charge?

Classic Calvinism does teach, of course, that God’s
eternal decree is a binding verdict that set everything in motion toward a predetermined end, and God remains sovereign in the outworking of His providence. (Providence speaks of His purposeful care and management of everything He created). The decree is eternal, meaning it was issued before the foundation of the world. It is God’s own sovereign fiat (authoritative edict). The word fiat is Latin for “let it be done.”

But He ordained the means as well as the end. In other words, God is not the direct cause (“the efficient cause”) of all that He decreed. He is by no means a mere passive observer of unfolding events, nor is He subject to any higher or more determinate will than His own. But His “let it be done” is not necessarily the exact logical equivalent of “I Myself will do this.” (See, for example, Job 1:12; 2:6.)

But isn’t it still the case that God’s decree ultimately causes “whatsoever comes to pass”?

Well, yes, in one sense. But there is more than one sense of the word cause. We rightly distinguish between efficient and final causes (sometimes labeled proximate and ultimate causes). These are not concepts made up on the fly for the benefit of dodging Arminian objections. The distinctions between various kinds of causes are long-established differentiations—elementary concepts of truth and logic that go back at least as far as Aristotle.

Aristotle, for example, named four categories of cause:

1. The Final Cause—that for the sake of which something happens
2. The Efficient Cause—the agent whose action produces the effect
3. The Material Cause—the substance that gives being to the effect
4. The Formal Cause—the shape, pattern, definition, or species of the effect

From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s “Aristotle” entry:

The development of potentiality to actuality is one of the most important aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy. It was intended to solve the difficulties which earlier thinkers had raised with reference to the beginnings of existence and the relations of the one and many. The actual vs. potential state of things is explained in terms of the causes which act on things. There are four causes:

1. Material cause, or the elements out of which an object is created;
2. Efficient cause, or the means by which it is created;
3. Formal cause, or the expression of what it is;
4. Final cause, or the end for which it is.

Take, for example, a bronze statue. Its material cause is the bronze itself. Its efficient cause is the sculptor, insofar has he forces the bronze into shape. The formal cause is the idea of the completed statue. The final cause is the idea of the statue as it prompts the sculptor to act on the bronze.

God is the final cause; not the efficient cause of evil.

To illustrate that someone or something can be the “final cause” of an evil act and yet not be held morally responsible for it, consider these examples: Continue reading

Historical Evidence That Jesus Rose From The Dead

Article: He Is Risen: Historical Evidence That Jesus Rose From The Dead by James Bishop (original source here)

Is there any evidence that this actually happened, or is this just a product of myth, legend, or religious wishful thinking? As it turns out, the resurrection of Jesus is well supported by historical evidence and serves as the best explanation for the facts surrounding his life, death, and the emergence of early Christianity.

In this article we shall focus on New Testament Scholar Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach (MFA). The MFA, explains Habermas, “considers only those data that are so strongly attested historically that they are granted by nearly every scholar who studies the subject, even the rather skeptical ones” (1).

This comes after Habermas has sifted through some 3000 peer reviewed academic articles penned in several languages. Having done so Habermas identifies 12 such facts (2) (3) but we shall focus only on four that are needed to make the case for Christ:

Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus’ burial.
Jesus’ empty tomb.
Jesus’ post mortem appearances that convinced Paul, James and the disciples that he had been raised from the dead.

General Reliability

Since we will review the New Testament I want to make the case that we can trust them as historical documents. We won’t assume that the biblical texts are inspired or that they are inerrant. We shall simply approach the New Testament as basic historical documents. As I have argued before there are six main areas we will focus on (4).

The gospels are our primary sources for learning about Jesus. Contemporary critical New Testament historian and professor of Religious Studies Bart Ehrman affirms we can make use of the “New Testament Gospels.” He explains that doing so “is not for religious or theological reasons… these alone can be trusted. It is for historical reasons, pure and simple” (5).

IN AGREEMENT PROFESSOR RICHARD BURRIDGE CLAIMS THAT WHEN “JUDGED BY THE CRITERIA OF THE 1ST CENTURY AND I THINK THEY [GOSPELS] ARE PRETTY RELIABLE DOCUMENTS” (6).

It is thus not disputed that the gospels do, to a greater or lesser extent, give us good historical information on Jesus.

Such a position is strengthened since consensus today (10) holds the gospels to be the “genre of biographies” (7), “ancient biographies” (8), and “as modified ancient biographies” (9). This important fact conveys to us the author’s motive, namely to provide an account of what really happened.

Historians note that archaeology supports the gospel accounts which goes a long way in demonstrating that they are grounded within history. There are many such confirmations concerning the gospels, as Distinguished Professor Craig Evans explains,

“MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE, JOHN, THE BOOK OF ACTS—THESE ARE THE BASIC NARRATIVE BOOKS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. THEY TALK ABOUT REAL PEOPLE, REAL EVENTS, REAL PLACES, AND THE ARCHAEOLOGIST CAN SHOW THAT” (11).

Scholar Paul Johnson agrees writing that “Historians note that mounting evidence from archaeology confirms rather than contradicts the accounts of Jesus” (12). Then historians have extra-biblical affirmation of gospel events, as historian Habermas explains, “When the combined evidence from ancient sources is summarized, quite an impressive amount of information is gathered concerning Jesus and ancient Christianity” (13). Continue reading

Five Reasons for Considering the 1689 Confession of Faith

Article: Five Reasons for Considering the 1689 Confession of Faith by Ryan Davidson (original source here)

Huddled together in 1644, representatives of 7 churches gathered to summarize their common confession, and to distinguish themselves from the Anabaptists and the Arminians. It was a time of turmoil, and the river of the Reformation had swept across the shores of England. This was one of the first of several non-Anglican groups in that century to put pen to paper and confess their faith. Two years later, the Westminster Assembly would produce its own confession (WCF), and then in 1658, the Congregationalists would follow suit (Savoy Declaration). That original group of 7 churches was the Particular Baptists. Amid threats of persecution, and to show their solidarity and theological agreement in many ways with the Presbyterians and Congregationalists that had since written their own confessions, a larger crop of Baptists would draft the 1677 Baptist Confession with great reliance on the WCF and Savoy, however, this confession would be put forth by a General Assembly of Particular Baptists ultimately in 1689, giving it the name that it is known by today: “The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith”, often called the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. This Confession was classically theist in its view of God, covenantal in its view of Biblical Theology, “Calvinist” in its soteriology, and would show alignment with the Westminster Confession of Faith on the Ordinary Means of Grace and the Law. I grew up Baptist, became Calvinistic in my soteriology in my teen years, and have found a wonderful home in the confessional roots of Baptist theology as a pastor in my mid-thirties. To me, this Historic Confession, similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Savoy Declaration, is worth considering for at least five reasons:

1. For Baptists influenced by the ‘New Calvinism,’ it is helpful to see that for Baptists, Calvinism is not “new.” Many Baptists, myself included, embraced Calvinism and became ravenous for the writings of the Reformed tradition. We discovered that past the “5 points”, a covenant theology existed, but we assumed it really belonged to the Presbyterians. Yet, if we study our own history, we would see that the large, world-wide Baptist movement across the globe today really came out of a group of solidly Calvinistic, and even covenant theology-holding Particular Baptists. But from the 1800’s until the mid 1900’s, we lost our Confession. Baptists have a strong, soteriologically rich heritage. If you read the original forward to the confession, the heart of the signatories is brimming with a desire to find common ground with their Presbyterian and Congregationalist brethren. They write in their original letter to the reader, “…contention is most remote from our design in all that we have done in this matter.” A helpful history is found here.

2. There is value in saying more sometimes. In a day when statements of faith in many churches can be a minimalist endeavor, it is good to have a comprehensive summarized Systematic Theology. I once heard a dear brother say that the Confession is like a wonderful English garden, where Calvinism is only one set of beautiful flowers contained therein. The early Baptists were not content to have a Calvinistic soteriology alone. They viewed the pieces of systematic theology as fitting together–rising and falling together. If we adopt an historic confession, will this increase our need to teach new believers, or spend ‘extra’ time with new church members unfamiliar with a lengthier confession? Yes, but isn’t this ultimately a fruitful fulfillment of our commission to make disciples?

3. Historic confessions ground us. What would Biblical or Systematic or Exegetical Theology be without the aid of Historical Theology? While not inspired Scripture, historic confessions help us to work through doctrine in connection with saints who have gone before us. For Baptists particularly, we have vacillated across a wide expanse of theological understanding since the days of the late 1600’s, even since the days of Spurgeon, and this expanse includes several movements that had no real historic connection prior to their sudden development. Historic Confessions serve as a guide rail against much post-enlightenment theological novelty that has swept Evangelical Protestantism. What if a renewed interest in our own confessional heritage is what we need as we continue to grow and minister for and towards the glory of God?

4. Believer’s Baptism has much of its roots in a Covenant Theology. My many Presbyterian friends may wince, laugh or want to take me to task on that statement. However, for early Baptists coming out of the Church of England, two things drove their view of Baptism in my opinion (and it was not to be ignorantly petty, pesky, or contrarian, nor was it alignment with the Anabaptists from whom they had already expressed distinction). Continue reading

Geology Part 1

Dr. Jason Lisle: Creation 101: Geology Part 1 (original source here)

Geology is the study of the physical processes of Earth from plate tectonics and volcanos to minerals and rock layers. The field involves a combination of operational science and origins science. The operational aspects involve measuring the types of rocks and minerals and where they occur, and current observable processes. These things are all testable and repeatable in the present. Geologists often attempt to reconstruct past events on the basis of their observations of present conditions. It is in this area of origins science where creationists and evolutionist will often interpret the same evidence differently.

Geology is one of the most advanced disciplines of creation science. There are at least two reasons for this. First, the Bible gives some very specific details about the Earth’s geological past, including some specifics of the original creation of the planet, and also many details pertaining to the global flood.[1] These historical facts have enabled creation scientists to develop detailed geological models. We are able to explain things like plate tectonics, volcanos, the geologic column, and the ice age in light of the history recorded in Genesis.

A second reason is the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961. This book was written by the late Dr. Henry Morris and Dr. John Whitcomb. Dr. Morris’s background in science specializing in hydrology made him an ideal researcher on the topic of flood geology. Dr. Whitcomb’s education is in theology; his doctoral dissertation was on the Genesis flood, making him the perfect candidate to write on biblical issues. In the 56 years since its publication, creation scientists have refined the geological models proposed by Morris and Whitcomb. Nonetheless, to this day, The Genesis Flood remains a masterpiece of scientific and biblical research.

When it comes to the operational science aspects of geology, creationists and evolutionists are largely in agreement. After all, the power of operational science lies in its testability. Disagreements can be settled by performing an experiment. And so we all agree on the composition of rocks, where they are found, and how they form today. So it may be helpful to review some of the basics of operational geology.

Rocks and Minerals

Rocks are solid combinations of minerals. A mineral is a naturally occurring, solid, (mostly) inorganic, chemical with an orderly crystalline structure. Table salt is one example. It is sodium chloride (NaCl), meaning it is made of sodium and chlorine ions in equal proportions held together by an ionic bond. It has a crystalline structure that tends to form cubes. Quartz is another example of a mineral. A rock will contain several different minerals mixed together.

Rocks are classified into three primary categories based on how they form today. Igneous rocks are those which formed at high temperature, having solidified from lava or magma as it cooled. Volcanic rocks are igneous. Igneous rocks can form underground as well. Common examples of igneous rocks are basalt and granite. Igneous rocks are those that are used in the process of radiometric dating.

Sedimentary rocks are those that were deposited by water or air. At high speed, water can transport and deposit sediment such as sand. If the sediment contains a cementing agent such as calcite, the grains can lock together, forming a rock. Some examples of sedimentary rocks are sandstone, shale, and limestone. Sedimentary rocks often contain fossils – the mineralized remains of organisms.
Metamorphic rocks are those which were once either sedimentary or igneous, but have been altered by heat and/or pressure. Common examples are marble, slate, schist, and gneiss (pronounced “nice”). Each has an original sedimentary or igneous progenitor. Slate, for example, is produced when shale is metamorphized, whereas limestone can morph into marble.

The Geologic Column

In the origins debate, sedimentary rocks are especially important because they often contain fossils. From these we can learn something about the organisms of the past. Since the sediment was deposited by moving fluid, sedimentary rocks are often found in large horizontal layers, one on top of the next like a sequence of blankets. These are strata. Each layer seems to represent the material that was deposited continuously, with breaks in deposition separating layers. In places where the rock layers have been vertically cut, such as in the Grand Canyon, it is very easy to see these horizontal layers and to distinguish one from the next by differences in color and texture. Continue reading

All That Is In God

Warning – Scholastic Theological Material Ahead… it could easily make your brain hurt. It is posted in order to reference the current discussion taking place.

James E. Dolezal is Assistant Professor of Theology in the School of Divinity at Cairn University, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. He has written a new book entitled: All That Is in God (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017). http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/all-that-is-in-god-dolezal.html

Product Description – Unknown to many, increasing numbers of conservative evangelicals are denying basic tenets of classical Christian teaching about God, with departures occurring even among those of the Calvinistic persuasion. James E. Dolezal’s All That Is in God provides an exposition of the historic Christian position while engaging with these contemporary deviations. His convincing critique of the newer position he styles “theistic mutualism” is philosophically robust, systematically nuanced, and biblically based. It demonstrates the need to maintain the traditional viewpoint, particularly on divine simplicity, and spotlights the unfortunate implications for other important Christian doctrines—such as divine eternality and the Trinity—if it were to be abandoned. Arguing carefully and cogently that “all that is in God is God Himself,” the work is sure to stimulate debate on the issue in years to come.

John Frame has objected strenuously to many of the things written in this book:

Scholasticism for Evangelicals: Thoughts on All That Is In God by James Dolezal

Frame’s article here needs to be read for the rest of this to make any sense.

Others are now writing, and it seems clear that Frame is not on the side of orthodoxy.

Mark Jones: https://calvinistinternational.com/2017/11/27/reviewing-frames-review-of-dolezal/

Mike Riccardi (on facebook) writes:

So, I’ve been writing out a long response, which, as I was tending to the screaming kids, my phone ate. I’ll do my best to reproduce it.

1. It’s an extremely serious, as well as facile and naive, charge to say that anyone who holds to the historic Christian doctrine of divine simplicity is either (a) uncritically imbibing Aquinas, or, since there is a host of theologians and thinkers who embraced divine simplicity before Aquinas, (b) are uncritically imbibing Aristotle. Before you continue to parrot the objection that simplicity is simply Thomistic or Aristotelian, I would challenge you to demonstrate that Augustine, Athanasius, and the Cappadocian Fathers (all of whom were significant formulators and defenders of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and who explicitly employed the traditional doctrine of simplicity to maintain and defend Trinitarianism from heretical opposition) — I would challenge you to demonstrate that those men were either literarily or philosphically *dependent* on Aristotle for their thinking. That case simply can’t be made. They may have used categories that overlapped with certain of Aristotle’s (or other philosopher’s) ideas, but that doesn’t make the Trinity Aristotelian!

2. What bugs me about the contemporary evangelical / theistic mutualist/mutablist hunt for the Scholastic boogeyman (that is, to suppose that identifying an idea as “scholastic” or “Thomistic” or “Aristotelian” is sufficient refutation of that idea; it’s not; just because Thomas or Aristotle taught something doesn’t make it automatically unbiblical) is that we all stand on the shoulders of the so-called “scholastics” any time we use language like “person” and “essence” or “nature” to speak about the Trinity — or, to use an example that is more close to home for you, Scott, any time we use language like efficient or proximate cause to describe biblical compatibilism. The fathers didn’t wholesale imbibe the metaphysics of Greek philosophy, but they certainly spoke in those categories — ousia, phusis, hupostasis (and persona, substantia, essentia in the Latin fathers), etc. Again, there was significant revision of those metaphysical categories to reflect biblical truth (even using nonbiblical words like homoousios!), but there wasn’t this fear that to even use the same categories that the philosophers used would be a necessary subjugation of biblical authority to philosophy. Similarly, whenever we use the formula of proximate and efficient causation, we could be legitimately charged with employing an “Aristotelian” theory of causation. But simply because Aristotle might have helpfully observed that there are different kinds of causes and different levels of causation, it doesn’t mean that those categories are off limits when we see those concepts emerging from Scripture as well (e.g., in Acts 2:23). That brings me to #3. Continue reading